In the aftermath of Brittney Griner’s sentencing in a Russian penal colony, top diplomats from the United States and Russia said on Friday their governments were ready to negotiate the release of the American basketball star and Paul N. Whelan. , who is also imprisoned by Russia.
The diplomats, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said in separate press conferences that the negotiations would be conducted through a channel established earlier by their two presidents.
But in a possible indication of the strained relationship between the two countries, the pair made their comments after sitting next to each other – but not speaking – during a meeting of ministers of foreign affairs. Foreign Affairs of East Asia and Partner Countries.
On Thursday, Ms Griner was sentenced to nine years by a Russian judge. US officials said she was “wrongfully detained” and her trial was politically motivated, as relations between the two countries remain strained over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Biden administration has offered to free Viktor Bout, a jailed Russian arms dealer, in exchange for Ms Griner and Mr Whelan, a former US Marine who was found guilty in a Moscow court on espionage charges in 2020, according to people familiar with The Proposal.
After Friday’s meeting, Mr. Lavrov took the opportunity to point the finger at Mr. Blinken for making no effort to speak to him.
“Today there was only one person between us at the table,” Lavrov told a press conference broadcast by the Foreign Ministry. “I didn’t see him try to catch me.”
Asked about Mr. Lavrov’s remarks and Ms. Griner’s sentencing, Mr. Blinken stressed that talks would move forward through previously established channels.
“We have put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on,” Blinken said. “And what Foreign Minister Lavrov has said this morning, and is saying publicly, is that they are ready to engage through the channels we have established to do just that, and we are going to pursue that.”
What you need to know about the Brittney Griner affair
Russian officials criticized the United States for what they described as open negotiation of the prisoner swap.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov reiterated that criticism on Friday. “These exchanges will never happen if we start discussing the nuances of the exchange in the press,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
Despite sending signals that a potential swap is possible, Russian officials have insisted that due legal process must be completed first. After hearing the verdict on Thursday, Ms Griner’s lawyers said they would appeal the conviction, which would delay the start of her stay in a penal colony.
In another crucial meeting with possible implications for the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held their second face-to-face conversation in less than three weeks at the seaside resort. Russian Black Sea. from Sochi on Friday.
Mr. Erdogan has become an important mediator between Ukraine and Russia, which is seeking ways out of the economic and political isolation imposed by the West during its invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member and long-frustrated EU candidate, proved instrumental in securing a deal between the two warring nations to revive Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea.
In brief remarks before the leaders’ discussion began, Mr Putin thanked Mr Erdogan for Turkey’s role in mediating a Ukrainian grain export deal that also allowed shipments of grain and Russian fertilizers. The focus was on economic issues, with Putin expressing hope that the talks will bring stronger trade and economic ties.
Erdogan said steps taken on issues such as energy, grain, the Black Sea and transport were examples of the important role Turkey and Russia are playing in the region.
Mr. Erdogan is on track to retain the ability to talk to both Russia, NATO’s enemy, and Western members of the alliance. Turkey has maintained its refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia, angering its NATO allies, but Mr Erdogan, in a crucial move, also lifted his initial objections to Sweden and Turkey joining. Finland to the alliance as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
Russia is a key energy supplier for Turkey, supplying a quarter of the country’s crude imports and almost half of its natural gas purchases last year.
Turkey, meanwhile, is becoming an important transshipment point for goods bound for Russia now that many Western freight companies are no longer handling shipments bound for Russia for fear of defying sanctions, the Turkish newspaper Dunya.
But strong differences remain between the two leaders.
Their countries have backed opposing sides in the civil war in Turkey’s neighbor Syria. The Kremlin has spent blood and treasure to support President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey, which has absorbed more than 3.7 million Syrian war refugees, supports an opposing rebel faction and threatens a new military offensive in northern Syria. They have also been involved on opposite sides in the Azerbaijan-Armenia border dispute, which erupted into war in 2020.
Their arms relations are also complex. In recent years, Turkey has challenged its NATO partners to buy Russian anti-aircraft missiles. And now Russia – starved by war-related Western sanctions for technologies such as guidance systems for missiles and drones – is urgently seeking equipment.
“Military-technical cooperation between the two countries is constantly on the agenda,” Peskov told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
The fate of Brittney Griner in Russia
The American basketball star endured months in a Russian prison for smuggling hash oil into the country.
In Ukraine, officials in the southern city of Mykolaiv announced a drastic move on Friday: The area would be cordoned off and placed under a strict curfew over the weekend as law enforcement search for enemy collaborators.
The decision comes amid a significant escalation in shelling of the city by Russia, which has seen only about 20 days without violence since the war began on February 24, officials said.
In recent weeks, officials have issued increasingly urgent warnings of the presence of subversive forces in the city, including those tasked with directing enemy fire at military targets.
Vitaliy Kim, the military governor of the Mykolaiv region, urged residents to stock up on food and water and cooperate with any law enforcement officials they may encounter over the weekend. Public transport will also be closed.
Mr. Kim did not specify how law enforcement plans to find enemy collaborators, but in recent weeks he has offered $100 cash rewards from his own pocket to citizens who report suspected collaborators.
“Honest people have nothing to fear,” Mr. Kim said. “We are going to work on collaborators.”
Edward Wong reported from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul and Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico City.